Surviving Smallies.

It’s highly likely that you got your very first taste of veterinary medicine by spending time in a small animal practice. Maybe it was taking your own animal in or shuffling about on work experience? Although we might get a flavour at this early stage, it can feel quite different going back as a student with a brand new perspective and very different expectations.

What I’ve done is try and bash together some (hopefully) helpful words of advice based on my experiences in small animal practice. I’ll admit, none of this is particularly ground breaking but I hope that I can offer some guidance/reassurance that I wish I’d had back at the start.

My advice for small animal clinical placements…

1. Don’t be put off by your first day!

The first few days on placement are aways rough. You spend way too long staring at cupboards, trying to find a specific syringe in an expanse of coloured boxes. There’s a point where it becomes embarrassing to head back to the treatment room without it because you’ve been gone for so long. And so you find yourself wandering, trying to look busy in the hope that someone will eventually find you and ask if you’re okay. No? Just me?

Make sure to ask for directions and don’t feel silly asking lots of questions in the first couple of days. Clinics will often have different students every few weeks, so the message that you’re the newbie can sometimes get lost – particularly in bigger practices. Don’t get bogged down if you have to be shown where things are multiple times. Within a few days, you’ll be able to find the weird looking retractors that you saw the nurse pack away. If you can, book a couple of weeks at each placement to give yourself time to acclimatise and really get into the swing of things.

2. Keep it simple.

I distinctly remember being quizzed by a clinician about cardiac arrhythmias. We were going through each one in turn and by the time we got to atria fibrillation, I was really starting to feel the pressure. Wanting to make a good impression, I just started to ramble and out came this confused jumble of words in a desperate attempt to find any vaguely heart-related phrase that might stick. He stopped me (thank goodness) and very calmly said: “Keep. It. Simple.”

If you’re drawing a complete blank then it’s absolutely fine to take a moment, exhale and have a think. The first, straightforward answer that pops into your head is highly likely to be the right one – or at least close to it. Don’t try to look clever or answer a question with another question because it does you no favours. Be genuine and remember that worst thing you can be is wrong!

3. Feeling a bit useless?

Look. Sometimes, you’ll be at a placement where things just aren’t quite what you expected. It can be particularly demoralising when you feel as if you have to push and ask to have a go at things. I’ve had days where I felt as if I was in the way or just not vibing with the team. You know what – it’s okay. Every experience you take away from a placement, whether good or bad, is valuable and will shape you in some small way if you reflect on it. Don’t worry if you didn’t get to put a catheter in that dog or scrub in for that spay. Dust yourself off and so long as you show up tomorrow with a smile and try your best, that’s all you can do.

4. Good tea should be the colour of He-Man.

Whose He-Man? I didn’t know either but I’ll never forget this little laminated poster that was tacked up in the kitchen above the kettle at one practice I went to. It will forever be ingrained in my mind and has honestly served me (and the tea) very well.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that you’re never above making a cup of tea. Gaining “clinical experience” isn’t just working with the animals. It’s learning how to handle yourself in the work environment, mingling with colleagues, building professional relationships, getting good at communication – the list goes on! A good cup of tea is a sure-fire way to make friends & will have a huge impact on how you’re remembered.

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